There are obvious risks involved when choosing a cruise for a vacation. Many of these risks have been exposed in recent headlines, as many vacations have turned into nightmares. How do you know if a cruise is right for you? How do you avoid being a statistic in cruise-disaster? Although I am no expert, the answers are simple, and I hope to help people find a vacation that will be relaxing and problem-free.

Part of the fear of cruises is that, if illness spreads, it affects everyone involved. On such a grand scale, this is quite frightening. Recent norovirus outbreaks on cruises have received a lot of media attention, but here are some things to remember:

  1. Cruise lines do not want to accept responsibility for the origin of illness. Most companies claim that sick passengers come onboard, and germs spread in that way. In case they are right, be preventative. Just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean common sense is. Wash your hands frequently, don’t share cups and utensils, and ESPECIALLY don’t drink the pool water! (It is sad that I even need to say that one.)
  2. Not all cruise lines are blame-free, so here are some tips to keep healthy in that case. Things to avoid: food sitting out in the open (buffets), shellfish and salad ingredients (believed to be the most susceptible), soda fountains and free water (This is expensive, but safe. Choose beverages that are bottled or canned like wine, beer, soda, and bottled water.) If you absolutely have to have fruits, choose something that you can personally peel, like bananas and oranges
  3. Be skeptical of your food, especially seafood. Smell it, taste it in small bites, and if there is anything strange about it do not hesitate to send it back and get something new. Food is abundant and all of it is delicious. If sending something back saves you from a potentially miserable experience, it is worth changing your meal plans.
  4. Keep in mind that you are at risk for food poisoning and illness on every vacation. Whenever you are not familiar with the area, you run the risk of going to restaurants that are less sanitary or precautionary. You will have judge for yourself if it is worth it or not, but to me it definitely is.

Other points I would like to make about cruising:

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The crew doesn’t speak English, onboard fires, poor safety requirements, unsanitary rooms; I have heard some horror stories about cruises. My advice to most of these, including the unfortunate accidents with the Costa cruise lines, is to travel with a reputable, BIG NAME company. Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and even Carnival are great examples of this. (Although Costa is a daughter company of Carnival, they do not share the same rules and guidelines, and so Costa does not fit in this list). These kind of companies give safety briefings before the ship even leaves the port, they have high maintenance standards (making fires and faulty equipment less likely) and based on my experience and some input from friends, the crew is on top of everything. Rooms are cleaned and straightened while you are at the pool or at port, room-service is quick and reliable, and although your crew and servers may be foreign, it is almost certain they speak English better than you speak any foreign language. If you have no choice but to travel on an international company, do some research and learn their reputation before you buy, and expect that you may need to pick up a second language, depending on the country the ship is leaving from.

Once again, the cruise line is not responsible for everything. You might be sharing a ship with people who have a pick-pocketing or worse agenda. Take care to watch your wallet and chargeable room-key. Lock valuables in the safe, give them to the purser, or simply don’t bring them – less to worry about. Women especially should be aware that cruise clubs are just like clubs anywhere else; watch the bartender make your drink, then don’t let it leave your sight, don’t leave without your whole party, and don’t leave alone with strangers. Last but not least, research the ports you will be visiting. Know where is tourist friendly and where is off-limits. If you decide the adventure of crossing that line is worth it, know how to protect yourself and keep personal documents and money hidden.

Cruising is a lot of fun. It is practically care-free. Out of all our trips together, my husband and I have felt the most relaxed on a cruise (although we missed our hill-climbing, city-exploring ways) and I see more coming in the future. Overall, there are some valid concerns with cruising. No situation is 100% safe, but hopefully preparing yourself with some of these tips will help you avoid unpleasant experiences. If you have extra tips to add or concerns to warn people of, please feel free to comment. I would like to be aware myself.